DEARBORN, Mich. (USATODAY.com) - A 1964 copy of the Saturday Evening Post magazine at Ford Motor's archives here has the Beatles on the cover, on the cusp of making a huge splash on the U.S. music scene. Inside, a two-page ad for Kodak photo film, and another ad for the new Ford Mustang.
"The Mustang's the only one still around, intact," says archivist Dean Weber.
Still around, but hardly the same. Thursday, Ford is unveiling a redesigned version for 2015, the sixth-generation Mustang, by Ford's count, since the car was launched on April 17, 1964. It goes on sale next fall.
The Mustang "is important because it has been a symbol of Ford for 50 years," says Jack Nerad, market analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
Bill Ford, chairman of the namesake company, says in a video for employees: "This is the most important product we have, at least to me personally. Every time we unveil a Mustang, the stakes are raised, and yes, I get nervous, but more than that, I'm really excited."
Though Mustang was the original of what came to be called "pony cars," rival Chevrolet Camaro now outsells it. "I'm certain that Chevy's sales success in the segment sticks in the craw of many high-ranking Ford executives. They believe they should own the pony-car segment," Nerad says.
The 2015 is easily recognizable as a Mustang, but there are dramatic chassis, body, interior and drivetrain changes.
Planners decided on evolutionary styling to appeal to traditionalists, but adventuresome enough to draw new buyers. The overall effort, according to theme boards at Ford's huge Mustang styling studio here, has been to deliver a car seen as:
• "Breaking out," illustrated by a picture of a fist smashing through glass.
• Oozing "power and control," illustrated by the haunches of a muscular jungle cat.
• "Masculine and cool," portrayed on the boards by actor Steve McQueen, a Mustang icon for the chase scene in his movie Bullitt.
That last goal comes as most automakers seek more women buyers, but the masculine emphasis simply acknowledges reality.
Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, says women are 26% of Mustang buyers this year, about flat for the past five years. It's 32% for rival Camaro, 27% for Dodge Challenger.
She also notes a "big leap" in Mustang buyers 55 and older, up 12 percentage points in five years, to 36% this year. Mustang buyers under 35 have slipped three points.
Potential new buyers will see a design similar to the outgoing Mustang, but with significant differences in dimensions. The rear wheels are pushed out about 1.6 inches to be flush with the sheetmetal, which is about 2.8 inches wider than the 2014.
Taking advantage of the 2015's new chassis, designers were able to lower the roof 1.5 inches, the hood 1.3 inches and the dashboard about 2.8 inches.
The result: a sleeker look, obvious when it's next to a 2014.
The 2015 Mustang's underpinnings amount to an "all-new" platform, says Raj Nair, Ford's vice president in charge of global product development.
The original idea was to evolve the current chassis. But once Ford decided that the new car would have independent rear suspension (IRS) - a first for mainstream Mustang models. "We started having some trouble with the steering and proportion of the vehicle," Nair says. "We decided fairly late in development to widen the vehicle."
IRS improves handling, ride and steering precision, but is more costly and complicated than the solid rear axle that Mustangs have had since 1964.
The engine selection also didn't work out as planned. The intent was an EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder as the base engine and the V-8 as the up-level engine. But a less expensive V-6 was added to be the base, says chief engineer Dave Pericak. "We added the V-6 later in development, as a value item; Mustang's always had a value element," says Pericak.
Thus, the engine lineup will be:
• Base: 3.7-liter V-6, about 300 horsepower.
• Optional: 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder. Ford says it'll have at least 305 hp and significantly more torque than the V-6.
• Top-end: 5-liter V-8, rated "more than 420 hp," he says.
Less dramatic, but likely endearing, new features you might overlook:
• Front roof pillars are realigned, and nearly 1.3 inch thinner. Combined with a new location for the outside mirror, the 2015 has better front visibility.
• Passenger's airbag is in the glove box door, smoothing the look of the dashboard by eliminating the seam for a separate panel. Ford assumes - this remains to be verified in real life - that people won't drive around with the glove box open, which would interfere with bag operation.
• Tires, which now sit flush with the outside edge of the sheetmetal, have "rub" ribs to minimize the chance you'll get curb rash on the expensive alloy wheels most models will have.
• The middle roof pillar is hidden behind the door glass to avoid interrupting the silhouette.
• The convertible, coming at nearly the same time as the coupe, will have the fastest top in the business - up or down in seven seconds. And it'll operate up to 5 mph.
• Front seats - none too soon, some might argue - have "memory recline," so they return to your preferred setting after tipping them forward to let passengers into or out of the back seat.
• New colors to address owner requests, including Triple Yellow (literally painted three times, instead of one or two, to eliminate the "dirty" look of gray primer that yellow has trouble hiding).
"There's actually a Yellow Mustang Club, and boy, do we hear from them when we don't offer a yellow," says Susan Lampinen, the chief designer in charge of color, among other things, for all Ford and Lincoln models.